Don’t call it Cali (and other ways to peg yourself as a tourist in Southern California)

When a lot of us travel, we like to blend in to our surroundings and not walk around with a big sign over our heads that says, “Hey! I’m a tourist!”

I get it. I do the same thing when I travel. That’s why I wanted to write this little piece about what not to do if you want to blend in while on holiday in the Golden State. This piece is all in good fun, of course. The truth is, we’ve an incredibly diverse state with people from all over the U.S. and indeed all over the world living and working here. Still, there are a few things we born and bred Californians say and do that brands us as locals. Want to do as the locals do? Follow this guide. If not, that’s cool too. Honestly, it doesn’t matter too much and we’ll accept you either way.

You call it Cali.


Most Californians will not shorten the name of our beloved state to “Cali,” as I’ve heard so many transplants and visitors do. How did this trend begin? Do people not like saying the four syllables it takes to say, “California”? or is it just meant to be cute? Perhaps it was started by that LL Cool J song? I don’t know. Either way, we locals don’t really call it Cali. I’m not going to say never, because I’ve heard a few locals utter it, but usually that comes along with a raised eyebrow. Most people who call it “Cali” are definitely not from around these parts. Depending on who you say it to, you may get varied responses from cringing to eye rolling. Others don’t care, but if you want to blend in with the locals…don’t call it Cali.

You wear jeans with running shoes.

Ok. I do this sometimes myself when I’m feeling lazy, but I do it with the full knowledge that people probably think I’m a tourist. That’s not to say we’re not a casual bunch here on the West Coast. Leggings with Uggs? Yup. Wearing full workout gear out to brunch (including the running shoes)? Yup. But jeans or slacks and running shoes? Yeahhhh not so much. But a pair of Chuck Taylors are perfectly acceptable. That’s not to say anybody cares if you’re wearing those combinations. We’re not a snobby bunch…we’ll just know you’re a tourist (or in my case, I’ll get asked where I’m from, and then get a blank stare when I reply, “here“.)

You’re carrying one of those star maps, or otherwise “looking for celebrities.”

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Any Southern Californian knows that the celebrities don’t hang out in Hollywood. Or Beverly Hills. Or really anywhere that tourists or mobs of people are. Many of them don’t even live in L.A. full time, but instead just have homes here that they live in when they have to be in town. Those homes have high fences covered in shrubs and are basically fortresses designed to block prying eyes. Sure, you’ll occasionally see a celebrity somewhere like LAX or scurrying into some private establishment that you’re not allowed inside of. I hate to break it to you, but your chances of seeing a celebrity in L.A. are slim to none.

You freak out on the freeway.

Ah, the freeway. Our traffic is pretty legendary here on the West Coast, and I can say that it’s just as awful and soul-crushing as you think it is. That being said, if you’re going to drive on the freeway in L.A. or indeed anywhere around any of our major cities or coastal areas in California, be prepared for traffic. Also be prepared for aggressive drivers and plan to be aggressive yourself. You’re never going to get off at that exit if you let the other cars bully you around, after all. Be polite if at all possible, but know that a turn signal is a signal to the jerk behind you that they should speed up so as not to let you in, and you’ll want to start moving over a good distance before your exit so as to actually make it off the freeway. This isn’t a place for timid drivers, and the speed limit is basically a speed minimum as far as people around here are concerned. I don’t mean to frighten you, because it’s not actually that difficult, you just need to be on guard and ready to react. Defensive driving, everybody!

You eat at a chain restaurant.

This one goes mainly for our major cities. If you’re off in the more rural areas of the state, this doesn’t apply, but if you eat at a chain restaurant in any of California’s major cities, you’re likely a tourist because we have some FABULOUS dining establishments in this state and chain restaurants just don’t compare. There are amazing local eateries, cafes, and full blown dining experiences to be had up and down the coast, so make sure to ask a local for recommendations and try out some of the local flavor! (Ok. So I’ve been known to eat at the Cheesecake Factory from time to time, but you know…in general).

You’re walking around with a huge backpack…or a fanny pack.

It’s possible you can’t avoid this, as you may be carrying around a lot of items with you, but you should know that a backpack definitely pegs you as a tourist. I had a backpack one day walking around San Diego because I had to carry a lot of stuff around that day for reasons I now can’t remember (I’ve lived in San Diego for the past 10 years) and I swear in every restaurant, bar, etc. I went into, people asked me where I was from or how long I was planning on staying in town. I’m from here, and I’ll be here for the foreseeable future. But yeah, it definitely pegs you as a tourist.

You’re hanging out at one of the tourist trap areas.

Hollywood and Highland, the walk of fame, Universal Citywalk…yeah, these are all tourist traps and locals don’t really hang out there all that much. That being said, if you really want to see these places, definitely do. I do warn you though, they aren’t “the real L.A.” and you may be disappointed with some of those places. Not to worry though, there are all kinds of amazing things to see and do all around the city! Ask a local what they recommend, or of course keep following this blog for lots of tips 🙂

You didn’t check the weather before you arrived.

So, I hate to burst your bubble, but it’s not sunny and warm here 100% of the time. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes it’s….gasp!….cold. Sometimes it’s foggy, and sometimes it’s humid and miserably hot. I’ll never forget a particularly chilly day down by the beach here in coastal San Diego where I live and seeing a woman wearing a tank top, shorts, and flip flops and shivering. I overheard her say to her husband, “I would have brought a sweater on this trip if I had known it would be so COLD!”

Yeah. Check the weather. And always bring a sweater. It does get a little chilly, especially at night, and especially in Winter. No, it’s not Wisconsin levels of cold, but you’ll still need some warm clothes.

What pegs people as a tourist where you live? Any tips for those wanting to blend in while visiting your neighborhood? I’d love to hear about them!

This article was all in good fun, of course. Honestly, we don’t have any issues with tourists here. Come in your giant backpacks, your Disneyland t-shirts, and your running shoes. Say hello! Ask us for directions or a restaurant recommendation. Despite our reputation for aggressive freeway behavior, we’re actually a pretty friendly bunch. Wear that camera around your neck with pride, and feel free to ask us to take your photo (unless we’re in a hurry somewhere, of course…but in general, no worries!)


4 replies »

  1. What marks you as a tourist?

    In Southern California (from memories of living there for 10+ years): saying you’re heading to “Frisco” for the weekend. Talking about how far to travel in terms of distance. (Locals talk about how much time it takes for a specific time of day or day… that store across town is three hours away on a workday but 45 min on the weekend… not 50 miles!)

    In Germany (living here now): not slightly bowing your head when you shake hands, complaining that the grocery store is closed on Sunday. A female child or adult: wearing a jacket of any weight without a scarf, flashy jewelry especially an obvious necklace, smiling all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

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